Cassandra

Cassandra was the most beautiful of the daughters of Hecuba and Priam, the Queen and  King of Troy. She was so beautiful that even Apollo, notorious womanizer among the gods, was infatuated with her. One  day, while she was slumbering in the temple, Apollo silently approached her, as he had in mind to win the girl’s love. When she woke up and heard the handsome god professing his passion, she was pleasantly flattered. He courted her gently and  promised to give her a most precious gift that would have sealed their love: she would have been able to see the future, but, there is always a but, only if she consented to lie with him.

Cassandra was intrigued at first, it was a generous gift indeed, but, after accepting the offer, she started to have doubts and changed her mind. It happens, even to charming gods. So angry Apollo, who was not used to being jilted, seeked his revenge. He kept acting the meek sad rejected lamb for a while and implored her to give him a single kiss that he could remember forever. The girl accepted and while she made the move to reach Apollo’s lips, the God spat in her mouth. A gesture of utter contempt. With that act Apollo had nullified his own gift condemning her not to be believed.

From that moment on, Cassandra will start to see the future and, as any human being, will not be able to resist or refrain from telling others what she knew, or to alert those who were going have losses or mischances, hence as prophetess of misfortunes and nefarious events, she was avoided and marginalized, for fear, or the illusion of her being able to change events.

Apollo could have condemned Cassandra to mere silence, but he did not. He gave her the faculty to perceive more than normal, keeping the use of the word, and also remaining aware of the fact that others could listen to her but would choose not to believe her words, indeed, they would consider her crazy and delusional for her insistence, especially when she warned them of immense dangers. She will cry out the negative outcomes of Helen’s kidnapping, in fact, and will try to stop the Trojans from dragging the wooden horse into the city, warning them that it would be the cause of their ruin; but she will always remain unheard.

If we want to give a further interpretation to the myth, we may add that Cassandra’s faculty does not only consist in seeing the future but rather, understanding its signs, or better, she sees the future, because she understands them. In a sense Apollo had made her wise, wiser than anybody else, that is the meaning of his gift. After all isn’t it the destiny of the wise, of those who know how to see far and beyond, of those who are able to decipher the omens and may know how to anticipate them to end up unheard?

The consequence of the scrutiny of future should lead to the rise of a great deal of questions in order to find the best solutions to incoming problems, even if they seem inconvenient at first glance. For example, when Priam sees the horse, he doesn’t wonder why he should receive such a gift in a middle of a war, and why the Spartans had retreated in such a hurry. Why? Wisdom would have suggested him to be careful, but he is not. Worn out by an exhausting war, he chooses to believe in the final peace and ignore Cassandra’s words, and, as he wishes to return to normal life, he accepts the Spartans’ gift and allows the huge horse to be dragged inside the city wall and their disgrace of his people with it.

Hence, we may say that Cassandra’s curse lies above all in her not being able to communicate and interact, thus her efforts remain arid, unproductive and sterile. A double torture for those who profess and need to communicate and interact with each other: being aware of speaking while remaining unheard. Communicating is as important as listening and communication is truly constructive, if made of real listening, because communication is something more than the mere reception of an observation, it is an emotional feedback that changes us, excites us, makes us think and reason in order to modify and improve our system.

In this sense our age, which has glorified communication through medias, has turned out to be the less communicative at all, as we all speak and write a lot, but nobody or just a few takes the trouble to listen. Everybody has a truth, which cannot be even dented. Therefore, those who are entitled to “read the signs” and take us out of troubles, like in this outbreak, remain often unheard or offended. So, even if we see the clouds approaching, we still prefer to turn our back to modern Cassandras and look at that little portion of the sky where the sun still shines, without realizing that we are just dragging the Trojan horse in.

 

 

 

 

.

 

.

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I Tiresias”

ti1

The figure of Tiresias, the blind seer from Greek mythology, has always appealed a great variety of authors both ancient and modern. In particular T.S. Eliot gives him (according to his own notes) a key role in The Waste Land. The question for readers is this: what features of Tiresias are functional to Eliot’s masterpiece? Who is Tiresias?

ti7The myths about Tiresias are many. One of the most common refers that, one day walking on Mount Cyllene, he saw two copulating snakes and he killed the female because that scene bothered him, a male chauvinist choice, actually. The goddess Hera was not pleased, and she punished Tiresias by transforming him into a woman. As a woman, Tiresias became a priestess of Hera. She married and had children and one of them, Manto, also possessed the gift of prophecy. She lived in this state for seven years trying all the pleasures that a woman could try, till once again she found herself facing the same scene of the snakes. Depending on the myth, it seems that this time the Tiresias cleverly resolved upon either leaving the snakes alone or trampling on them. Whatever her choice was, it worked, as Tiresias was allowed to regain his masculinity.

ti2One day Zeus and Hera found themselves divided by a dispute about who could have more pleasure in sex: a man or a woman. Failing to come to a conclusion, because Zeus claimed it was the woman, while Hera asserted that it was the man, the quarrelsome couple agreed to summon Tiresias, as he was very likely the only one that could resolve that argument, because of his transgender experience. Once in front of the gods, he said that sexual pleasure is composed of ten parts and “of ten parts a man enjoys one only” and  a woman nine. The goddess Hera was furious because Tiresias had revealed such a secret and instantly struck him blind. Zeus, who could do nothing to stop or reverse her curse, as Greek gods cannot change what others have decided, gave him the power to predict the future and the lifespan of seven lives as recompense. In other versions of the myth  Tiresias was blinded by Athena after he had seen her bathing naked. His mother, Chariclo, a nymph of Athena, begged Athena to undo her curse, but the goddess could not; instead, she cleaned his ears, giving him the ability to understand birdsong and the gift of divination.

ti3There are diverging myths on his death as well. During the attack of Epigoni against Thebes, Tiresias fled the city along with the Thebans and died after drinking water from the tainted spring Tilphussa, where he was struck by an arrow of Apollo. In another version the soothsayer and his daughter Manto were taken prisoner in Thebes and sent to Delphi, where they would have been consecrated to the god Apollo. Tiresias died of fatigue during the journey. The soul of Tiresias, after entering into Hades, retained the powers of divination, as narrated by Homer in the Odyssey.

ti5Going back to the initial question, therefore,Tiresias embodies exactly what Eliot was looking for: his having been both man and woman makes him a unifying figure in The Waste Land, thus linking the ancient and modern worlds and giving unity to that “heap of broken images” which is the present world. Furthemore Tiresias, in the desolation and despair of The Waste Land,  reactivates his ancient role – that of a prophet. In this mythological context, Eliot seems to indicate that the state of the waste land will not always be perpetual as long as Tiresias directs us.

 

 

 

Myths, heroes and………..Totti.

fall-of-pha-thon-greek-mythology-2996236-800-584I’ve always enjoyed reading stories about myths, legends, courageous men ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their country or even only for the beauty of a woman. The main actors of these stories where the heroes, who actually embodied the highest expression of  the values of their society: loyalty, honour, love for the country, sacrifice. With their deeds, which were narrated in long epic poems, they were the symbols of the power, pride but also ethics of their people, thus contributing, through a natural process of identification, in the making of what could be called national awareness.

192964_oHeroes could not be commoners, for sure, because the greatness of the values they embodied had a divine nature that could be found either in their breed, for example Achilles, whose mother was the nymph Thetis or in their name, as for  Beowulf. Beowulf, in fact,  means “bee wolf” (which was supposed to be a metaphor for a bear): “the wolf that eats honey“, from which it was extracted ambrosia, the food of gods. He was, therefore, one of them. The values heroes embodied were universal and worked as glue of past more primitive societies, thus creating the basis of modern ones. At this point, I always ask my students a question: are there any such heroes nowadays? Men or women that could be the expression of universal values? They usually ponder for a while, then they come up with the usual defiant answer: Totti.

tottiTotti, who? I guess you would ask. Well, Totti happens to be an Italian footballer, particularly popular here in Rome as he is the captain of A.S.Roma. The answer is quite provocative, as they know well that I am a great fan of the other team here in Rome S.S.Lazio. On Sundays , but often for the whole week, the atmosphere here is always something like, Capulets vs Montague,Guelphs vs Ghibellines,Trois vs Sparta and Lazio vs Roma. Thus, you may understand how that name can be particularly odious to me. However, despite the choice of the man, is it such a wrong answer? Can an action of a  footballer or a team have the same function of glorious heroic deeds? Yes.

7FEVER-PITCH1997_1835603iNick Hornby in his autobiographical book  Fever Pitch: A Fan’s life , well describes how football works in the mind of supporters. It is glue. Football is the common ground that allows the protagonist Paul Ashworth, an English teacher, to re-create a relationship with his father after the divorce and at the same time he finds in the other supporters of Arsenal that family he needs, with whom sharing the deeds of the present, the hopes for a better future and the stories of a glorious past. Time is felt as seasonal, therefore reassuring, cyclical, never-ending. We may discuss upon the values football expresses, however, people gather around those values and find motivations, passion, frustration but also happiness. For ninety minutes they/we feel alive in a never-ending dream.

It is sad, however, that they couldn’t spot anybody else. How could I blame them? After all the society they had been brought up fabricates powerful models, who invite to a process of identification in order to make profit (football included). The beautiful “lightness” of values is thus replaced by the “heaviness” due to the craving of things. Therefore, once men are emptied of their values, they cannot but  become just like those “dried tubers” of T.S.Eliot ‘s Waste Land, who don’t seem to find any good reason to live and just like “broken images” wander pointlessly in this world, unless……………Totti comes 😦